Letter from the Publisher

January 2009

Welcome to the January 2009 issue of The Digital Journalist.

Our contributing photographer James Whitlow Delano has been spending a major percentage of his time away from his home base in Tokyo, working on projects south of the U.S.-Mexican border. The difficulty crossing our southern border has been well documented but for Central Americans, and a handful of other foreign nationals, the passage through Mexico to simply reach the U.S. border is one of the longest and perhaps the most treacherous migrations on the planet. In our cover story, James follows the migrants' odyssey from the "Train of Death" to the "Wall of Shame." This photo essay is actually part of a trilogy that James is working on, and in the months ahead we will present the other two parts.

As we were going to press, our attention was directed to a sound-slide presentation on the Chicago Tribune Web site. Using photographs taken in 2008 by Trib photographers, former Platypus Workshop graduate Chris Walker put together a slide show, using music that he first heard performed by his son's fourth-grade class. The composer of the song was a visiting teacher, Jim Papoulis, who gave us permission to use the music. This is a very difficult time for the Chicago Tribune Company, and we thank them for sharing this gift with us, and wish them our very best in 2009.

The picture is very dark, indeed, for many newspapers, magazines and television stations as we go into uncharted financial times. While the country (and the world) in general is seeing what could be the start of a replay of the 1930s, the news industry in particular saw this coming much earlier. In our editorial, we discuss the reasons behind the difficulties the industry finds itself in, and tell everyone, "Don't Blame the Platypus."

Speaking of the Platypus, we have announced four domestic Platypus Workshops for 2009: New Orleans (Feb. 6-15); Portland, Maine (May 1-10); Maine Media Workshops – Session 1: July 26-Aug. 4 and Session 2: Aug. 6-15.

As most of our readers are aware, we have been conducting these increasingly vital workshops, aimed at teaching the skills of HD Video Storytelling, to hundreds of photojournalists for the past 10 years. They have literally changed the lives of many who have attended the workshops. With the current economic situation in mind, we urge those who would like to attend NOT to ask their newspapers to send them. The days when these publications had training budgets are over. They are just struggling to survive. Instead, you have to take the responsibility for your growth and survival upon yourselves. We offer discounts for members of the NPPA and the ASMP, and students. We urge you to take advantage of these discounts to help you prepare yourself for the road ahead.

Speaking of video, the Canon 5D Mark II has become one of the hardest pieces of photographic equipment to find. All the first runs of the camera were sold out long before they hit the stores. As we mentioned in our review of the camera in our November issue (http://digitaljournalist.org/issue0811/the-canon-5d-mark-ii.html), there were several ergonomic problems that made the camera extremely difficult to handle in video applications. Since then, photographers have been scurrying to come up with solutions. One of them, Dirk Fletcher, wound up buying an old ENG viewfinder, adding a small battery power supply and a bracket that turns the 5D Mark II into a viable video camera, with that wonderful plus of being able to use EF lenses. Take a look at Dirk's solution in our Camera Corner.

One of our newer columnists, Joshua Wolfe, is back again this month, debating the value of photo contests.

In January we present three dispatches: Klavs Bo Christensen went into Haiti to see firsthand the devastation caused by two tropical storms and two hurricanes. Katharina Hesse was on her way to Cambodia and became one of thousands of travelers caught in demonstrations at the Bangkok airport, while Paul Taggart reports on the endangered gorilla population and park rangers in Congo's war zone.

E-Bits Editor Beverly Spicer writes this month about available light, the seasonal position of the sun, and mythical traditions of renewal marked by the increasing length of days after the Winter Solstice. One photographic tradition that uses available light is pinhole photography, the practitioners of which she likens to the pagans of photography.

Executive Editor Ron Steinman has been monitoring MSNBC this past fall, and is disturbed at what he sees in what NBC labels as newscasts. Read his provocative commentary, "Crossing the Line." And in his other article, "Neither Nor," Ron muses over "existing in an empty parenthesis": being excluded from the advertising industry's 19-54 target age group.

Bill Pierce, Terry Heaton and Chuck Westfall all send their New Year's wishes with their regular columns. Mark Loundy will return next month.

In Ethics, Karen Slattery and Mark Doremus explore the importance of professional integrity, not only to ourselves and our clients, but to fellow photographers as well.

Assignment Sheet starts off 2009 with two journals. In her piece, "Obamamania Meets Cousin Max," Eileen Douglas marvels at how an e-mailed photo from a relative in Russia reflects on the reach of Obamamania. Retired Newsday photographer Dick Kraus talks about the plight of his associates who are faced with the elimination of their staff photographer jobs at Newsday in his journal, "The Last Dinosaur's Brunch."

Finally, we sadly recall the life and work of photographer/editor/writer Sandy Colton, who passed away on Christmas Day.

We will be in Washington for Barack Obama's inaugural, and will have our special report on that historic event the first week of February.

We also hope to see some of you in New Orleans in February for our Platypus Workshops.

With best wishes for a Happy New Year.

Dirck Halstead
Editor and Publisher